Sunday, December 21, 2008

Peer Counselling and group therapy Discussion


Peer-Counselling Training Intiative - Steering Committee Meeting

The Shakti Center & The Center for Counselling

Date: Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Venue: Center for Counselling, Chennai.

Members present:

Magdalene Jeyarathnam, Center for Counselling

Padma Govindan, The Shakti Center

Anirudhan Vasudevan, The Shakti Center

Thamilarasi, Center for Counselling

Sankari, Center for Counselling

Sunil Menon, Sahodaran

Anto, SWAM

Siva (Sangama)


Srivath Kumar


Sundar Sahodaran

Sudhakar Sahodaran

Srinivasan SWAM

As a step towards the next level of their LGBTQ peer-counselling training intitative, The Shakti Center and the Center for Counselling organized a steering group meeting. It started with a brief introduction to the peer-counselling training intiative and a recap of the separate sessions that were conducted in June-July 2008 to assess the counselling-related needs of transgender women, lesbian and bisexual women, kothis, gay and bisexual men. Group counselling sessions held at the Center for Counselling were also briefly discussed to understand both individal and collective needs.

Fresh out of the shock of the death of Sathya, a transgender woman and a participant in the group therapy sessions, members present at the meeting found it necessary to talk about it and the issue involved: sexual reassignment surgery (SRS), myths and beliefs, medical practice, etc. Satya had gone to a quack for her surgery and had died right after the administering of the anaesthesia. This brought us squarel to the issues around SRS, the illegal and uncertified procedures performed by quacks in places like Pazhamaneri, Dindigul and Cuddapah, and the importance SRS assumes in the minds of pre-op transgender women. Besides the reiteration of the dissatisfaction and health complications discussed by some Aravani (transgender women in Tamil Nadu) participants of this program, the group also identified the need to collate accurate information about the Government Order regarding legalizing SRS, the proper  procedures followed at hospitals like Ramachandra Medical College Hospital and the Govt. Hospital in Vellore. It was decided that this information, along with an explication of the risks involved in going for the emasculation procedure to quacks, without any medical profiling, has to be published and publicized. This would form part of the peer-counselling training manual the preparation of which will be the main focus of the initiative for the next six months.

It was also noted that this step should lead us towards looking at establishing counselling-related criteria when it comes to legalized SRS. Creating basic medical profiles for Aravanis considering SRS also becomes crucial, since complications in this irreversible procedure are often due to a complete ignorance of prior health profiles.

When it came to the discussion of the increase in number of people opting for the emasculation surgery these days, Aravani and Kothi members shared narratives about themselves and their choices. The connection between the tendency to consider one's physical and emotional wellbeing and one's self-esteem repeatedly emerged in these narratives. Everyone felt that to be at the root of several issues. Participants from the group counselling sessions said that they benefit from the sessions not only in terms of getting to discuss and hear psychlogical issues, but also from meeting and forming new bonds with new people periodically. These group counselling sessions for members of the LGBTQ community, conducted at the Center for Counselling, have been successful and have resulted in requests to continue them. So both Tamil and English group sessions resume next week onwards. The question of documenting the sessions was also discussed.

While some participants in the peer-counselling training intitiative have experiences working in HIV/AIDS programs and hence have a functional knowledge of HIV and other STIs, some others have only a peripheral and inadequate understanding of the same viz-a-viz risks, protection, modes of transmission etc. Therefore the need for a clear discussion of sexual health issues both in the sessions as well as in the training manuals was emphasized.

Work ahead:

(a) Collation of data on SRS - hospitals where it is performed legally and with proper medical care, specialists

(b) Clear information about the SRS procedure - difference from emasculation procedures performed by quacks - health risks etc.

(c) Outlining of the peer-counselling training manual

(d) Continuing the group counselling sessions - documentation of issues discussed. 

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